Posts Tagged ‘liability’

Have You Made The Connection with Childbirth Connection? Three Reports You Don’t Want To Miss

January 10th, 2013 by avatar


The past few weeks have been big ones for 95 year old, New York based Childbirth Connection.  Since I started working in the birth world, I have always appreciated the information and publications from Childbirth Connection, not only to advance my own professional knowledge, but as a reliable, evidence based resource for my clients and students as well as the doula and CBE trainees that I work with.  Today on Science & Sensibility, I would like to share the three new Childbirth Connection reports that you may find useful.

1. Vaginal or Cesarean Birth: What Is at Stake for Women and Babies?

Maternity care stakeholders (consumers, health care professionals, insurers, state Medicaid agencies and others) are increasingly concerned about the immediate, short-term and long-term impact that the country’s high cesarean delivery rate is having on mothers and children.  A Maternity Action Team was convened by a collaboration of national organizations. The purpose of this team was to address unsafe or inappropriate maternity care.  The team’s overall goal of reducing the cesarean rate in low-risk women to 15% or less.

The report created by Childbirth Connection focuses on the adverse consequences of cesarean birth on both women and children.  Included in the report is also information on potential adverse outcomes of labor and vaginal delivery.  The following questions are answered:

  • What physical effects may occur in women more frequently with
  • cesarean delivery?
  • What physical effects may occur in babies more frequently with cesarean delivery?
  • What role may cesarean delivery play in the development of childhood chronic disease?
  • What complications are unique to cesarean delivery?
  • What complications are unique to vaginal birth?
  • What are potential psychosocial consequences of cesareans?
  • What are potential effects of cesareans on women in future
  • pregnancies and births?
  • What are potential effects of a scarred uterus on future babies?
  • Does cesarean delivery protect against sexual, bowel, urinary, or
  • pelvic floor dysfunction?
  • Does cesarean delivery protect against injuries to babies?

The results of the evidence reviewed allowed the following conclusion to be reached the authors:

The findings of this report overwhelmingly support striving for vaginal birth in general and spontaneous vaginal birth in particular in the absence of a compelling reason to do otherwise. To improve both the quality and value of maternity care in the United States and promote the optimal health of women and infants, clinicians, policy makers, and other stakeholders should prioritize identifying and promulgating practices that promote safe, spontaneous vaginal birth and reduce the use of cesarean delivery.

2. The Cost of Having a Baby in the United States

Childbirth Connection in collaboration with Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform recently released a report on the financial impact our current maternity care system has on both private payers and government funded care.  Maureen Corry, Childbirth Connection Executive Director shared that if the US were able to reduce the cesarean rate down to 15%, (from the current 33%), national spending on maternity care would go down by $5 billion dollars.

For the commercially insured, the average cost of a birth by c-section in 2010 was $27,866, compared to $18,329 for a vaginal birth. Medicaid programs paid nearly $4,000 more for c-sections than vaginal births.  (The Cost of Having a Baby in the United States)


There are facilities and providers who are effective at providing quality care and excellent outcomes while also demonstrating fiscal responsibility.  Yet other teams have costs that are drastically higher with outcomes that leave a lot of room for improvement.  What is the difference?  The report also noted that there were large variations in costs based on different geographic regions in the US.  Does the opportunity for practicing evidence based maternity medicine (resulting in a lower cesarean rate) provide the path for a reduction in maternity costs?  We learn in this report that “high-quality, high-value care” is an attainable goal and one that will benefit mothers and babies everywhere in our country.

3. Maternity Care and Liability: Pressing Problems, Substantive Solutions

If everyone is in agreement that the cesarean rate in the United States is too high, and that health care costs, including maternity care costs are skyrocketing, without an improvement in outcomes, then the next stop has to be examining the risks that health care providers and facilities assume and are held liable for when a less than optimum outcome occurs for mother or baby.  In the newest Childbirth Connection report released this week, Childbirth Connection takes a look at 25 different possible liability reforms and runs each scenario through the same filter, to find out which ones;

  • promote safe, high-quality maternity care that is consistent with best evidence and minimizes avoidable harm
  • minimize maternity professionals’ liability-associated fear and unhappiness
  • avoid incentives for defensive maternity practice
  • foster access to high-value liability insurance policies for all maternity caregivers without restriction or surcharge for care supported by best evidence
  • implement effective measures to address immediate concerns when women and newborns sustain injury, and provide rapid, fair, efficient compensation
  • assist families with responsibility for costly care of infants or women with long-term disabilities in a timely manner and with minimal legal expense
  • minimize the costs associated with the liability system
Which proposal will stand the test, and prove to be the solution that has the possibility of improving the situation for all involved, consumers, providers and insurers.  Are we headed down the right track with the changes that have been already implemented? It appears that we may be doing more harm then good in some cases.  Liability concerns may very well drive every decision a health care provider makes, and the proper system has to offer protection to both the consumer and the provider. This report identifies the factors that the appropriate reform needs that will allow for everyone involved to benefit.

Additionally, along with this fascinating report, is a set of 10 printable fact sheets that can be shared with health care administrators,  consumers and health care providers to facilitate understanding and discussion on the topic of liability reform.

Childbirth Connection Executive Director Recognized

Finally, I would like to share that Maureen P. Corry, MPH, the executive director of Childbirth Connection was recently named by Forbes Magazine as one of the “13 To Watch in 2013: The Unsung Heroes Changing Health Care Forever.”  Maureen is recognized as “a strong policy advocate, but also a thoughtful and purposeful researcher who brings all sides together in very constructive ways, which is why many of the issues she has raised over the years are now on the top of the policy agenda in Washington.

The reports that Childbirth Connection has recently released clearly show that this organization, under the leadership of Maureen, is making significant and timely contributions to improving pregnancy and birth outcomes for mother and babies.  I am grateful for this organization, and would like to congratulate Maureen on behalf of myself, this blog and Lamaze International for a job well done!

Next week, Amy Romano, former Science & Sensibility community manager, and current Associate Director of Programs for Childbirth Connection will share how educators and advocates can use these reports in their classroom and with their clients and patients.  Have you taken the time to read any of the reports listed here today?  Are you already using them?  Please share your thoughts in our comments section.

Awards, Babies, Cesarean Birth, Evidence Based Medicine, Healthcare Reform, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Transforming Maternity Care , , , , , , , ,

Medical Error Disclosure and Risk of Malpractice Litigation

September 10th, 2010 by avatar

An analysis of “Liability Claims and Costs Before and After Implementation of a Medical Error Disclosure Program,” by Kachalia et. al, Annals of Internal Medicine, 2010; 153:213-221. [Patient summary and abstract available here.]

Two weeks ago, I was invited to speak to a group of family medicine residents about patient safety. I gave what I thought was a heartfelt appeal for greater openness in communication between physicians and patients. Afterwards, one faculty member approached me privately and remarked that, although many physicians would agree in theory that honesty, transparency, and disclosure are all good and right things to do for patients in the aftermath of a serious adverse event, it was unlikely to happen unless a business case could be made and it could be shown that such an approach would not put hospitals and clinicians in further financial or legal jeopardy. His comment got me thinking and digging to see if there was indeed any cold, hard evidence in the literature supporting open disclosure. I didn’t have to dig long before seeing the headlines from USA Today…

USA Today

In August, an article published in Annals of Internal Medicine took a close look at the relationship between disclosure of medical errors and liability risk. The authors conducted a retrospective analysis comparing legal claims made and costs to a major academic medical center and health system, over a roughly 12-year period before and after implementation of a medical error disclosure program. Since 2001, the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) has practiced a comprehensive claims management program emphasizing honesty, transparency, and disclosure—sometimes with compensation—to injured patients and encouraging reporting of errors by staff.

The results of the study challenge current medical malpractice paradigms. All of the study’s measures—number of new claims for compensation, number of claims compensated, time to claim resolution, and claims-related costs—decreased in the period after program implementation compared with the period before. (Note: the authors defined a claim as “any request for compensation for an unanticipated medical outcome whether initiated by the patient or by disclosure.” Although some claims did end up as lawsuits, the vast majority both before and after program implementation did not). Specifically,

  • Number of new claims for compensation decreased from 7.03 claims per 100,000 patient encounters before initial program implementation to 4.52 after full implementation. This decrease was due almost entirely to a drop in the number of lawsuits filed, and there was no change in the rate of claims that did not result in a lawsuit.
  • Median time to claim resolution decreased from 1.36 years before program implementation to 0.95 years after.
  • Total liability costs decreased after full program implementation and were attributable to decreases in both legal and patient compensation costs. Again however, although the total costs associated with lawsuits decreased (from $405, 921 to $228,308 per lawsuit) after full implementation of the UMHS Disclosure-with-Offer Program, the total costs for nonlawsuit claims did not.

Like any ambitious study, especially one of this size and duration, the UMHS study has limitations. Among them:

  • How much of the decrease in claims litigation is due specifically to UMHS program efforts as opposed to other variables in the healthcare climate during the study period? The authors noted that, during the same time as implementation of the UMHS program and study period, the entire state of Michigan also experienced an overall drop in liability claims and costs thought to be attributable to state-wide malpractice reform instituted in 1994.
  • What are the implications of a disclosure program that results in a decrease in the number of lawsuits filed, but no change in the number of claims that do not proceed to a lawsuit and an overall decrease in patient compensation? Many patients lack the resources to file a lawsuit and only a very small proportion of injured patients ever receive compensation, let alone in sufficient amounts, for medical negligence and harm that they have suffered.
  • What about caregivers practicing outside of a large medical center setting? The physicians in this study were all covered by the university under a group malpractice insurance program. The UMHS systems approach also meant that reporting of individual practitioners to the National Practitioner Data Bank was rare, a policy without which healthcare professionals and staff might be discouraged from reporting errors. For practitioners who purchase their malpractice insurance separately or who are engaged in private practice, it’s not clear whether the findings from this study are applicable.

Despite the study’s limitations, what is clear is that a medical error disclosure program does not automatically open hospitals or health systems up to more lawsuits and higher legal costs. The implications could be significant for a “high-risk” field like obstetrics where medical malpractice is no stranger and in which one wrong move during a short window of time can have enormous and lifelong medical, financial, and psychological consequences for a mother, her baby, and her family. Under the traditional “defend and deny” risk management strategy that has been in play for decades at most large hospitals and birthing centers, lawyers and practitioners operate on assumptions that admitting error is an invitation to a lawsuit and would open the floodgates to vengeful patients seeking large payouts for frivolous claims. These assumptions, grounded and perpetuated in fear, misunderstanding, and incomplete information, are major barriers to sound patient safety and ethical principles that support open disclosure of harmful medical errors.

The UMHS findings also confirmed what many patients, patient safety advocates, and healthcare professionals have long known about the mitigating effects of open disclosure on litigation. Paul Levy, CEO of the Beth Israel Deaconess hospital in Boston and author of the popular blog “Running a Hospital,” wrote recently:

The literature on the topic of disclosure and apology suggests that patients and families are not interested in having the doctor or nurse be punished when a medical error occurs, if (and this is an important if), the clinician makes clear that he or she is clearly regretful about the error, is empathetic with the patient, and if the clinician and hospital show that they plan to learn from the error to help avoid repeats with other patients.

So it looks like full disclosure is not only good medicine, but good business too.

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